Does Chicken Soup Really Help You Feel Better? Experts weigh in.
Chicken soup is often the comfort food when people feel sick. It is a remedy that dates back at least to the 12th century, when Moses Maimonides, a Jewish physician and scholar, recommended it for respiratory symptoms.
But does it really help people feel better when they have a cold? Here’s what experts say.
The science behind chicken soup
In perhaps the most famous study done on chicken soup, researchers found that the soup might have a mild anti-inflammatory effect. This study tested the impact of each ingredient and different concentrations of chicken soup on neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that causes inflammation in our bodies.
Dr. Stephen Rennard, an author of the study and a professor of medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life, “I can say with real confidence that there’s something in chicken soup that inhibits neutrophil migration” — essentially it reduce the movement of these cells and possibly inflammation. Rennard explains that not only chicken stock showed mild adverse effects on neutrophils, but so did every individual vegetable used in the tested recipe. The effect of both the broth and the ingredients together showed the greatest activity.
“I’m easily convinced that there are potentially things coming out of every vegetable and chicken that have potential medicinal activities,” says Rennard. “Now we don’t know — they could be the same thing, something common to all ingredients, or they could be unique.”
Rennard emphasizes that his research was done in the lab and did not evaluate chicken soup in sick people. “If you really wanted to test this as a medicine, you would really have to show that if you give it to sick people, they get better. We didn’t do any of those things,” he notes.
An older study found that sipping hot chicken soup helps loosen nasal mucus and clear the sinuses, even more than sipping plain hot water. The study authors suspected that the aroma of chicken soup, “sensed in the posterior nostrils or through a mechanism related to taste,” plays a role in this.
What experts agree on is that more research is needed to understand the beneficial effects of this home remedy.
Health benefits of chicken soup
Meanwhile, chicken soup still checks out as a valuable part of a treatment plan when you’re feeling down. That’s partly because it’s packed with health-promoting nutrients and “it hits full marks for a well-balanced meal,” Kelsey Kunik, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and nutrition consultant for Zenmaster Wellness, tells Yahoo Life.
Chicken provides protein, fat, minerals like zinc and selenium, and “is rich in the amino acid cysteine, which can help break down mucus in the body,” explains Kunik. It also contains a peptide, carnosine, which has natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and helps protect your nervous system.
In addition to chicken, many of the vegetables and herbs used in chicken soup are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
It also helps you stay hydrated and replenishes lost fluids, especially if you have a fever, diarrhea or vomiting.
Aside from its nutritional benefits, chicken soup is easy to eat if you don’t have much appetite or energy to chew, or if you have a sore throat when swallowing. “Drinking warm liquids can provide instant relief by soothing a sore throat,” says Kunik.
The power of comfort food
“There’s no doubt there’s something in it [chicken soup] that has the potential to affect cells in some way,” says Rennard.
While the mechanisms chicken soup has to fight the common cold are not fully understood or proven, there are some things we do know. “Having someone take care of you when you’re sick makes you feel better,” says Rennard. “And that’s not a placebo effect – that’s real, positive support. No one should underestimate the benefits of care.”
A hot bowl of chicken soup is soothing and can also improve your mood. Chicken contains tryptophan, which boosts your serotonin levels, which in turn can make you feel good.
While there’s some debate over whether chicken soup can actually cure a cold, Rennard says at the very least, “The soup tastes really good!”
Maxine Young is a dietitian and certified health and wellness coach.
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: meet the WHO behind the how with the Yahoo Life newsletter. Register here.